Showing posts with label leadership. Show all posts
Showing posts with label leadership. Show all posts

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Ideas vs proven methods

In any organisation my voice will be heard.  I don't fear offering an opinion and over time people learn how to use my opinions effectively.  I'm sure as hell not always right, but can be a good sounding board for ideas.

It always amuses me when someone argues a position and then gets sad when my position moves closer to theirs, undermining their argument.  I'm not as fixed as I should be, although probably more fixed in my ways than when I started teaching.

If someone has a better idea, I try to welcome it and embrace it (it is hard to give up an idea that has taken time to develop).  If someone attacks one of my ideas/ideals/opinions in the spirit it is given, then it is a welcome discussion - it can only create a stronger position (if only to better understand the counter argument).  The only time I really get frustrated is when ideas are attacked purely because of the person that is giving it.  I've been on both sides of this and get frustrated with myself when I catch myself doing it.  A colleague generally taps me on the shoulder to reconsider my position (and if they know me well enough) can snap me out of it.

The ability to offer an idea without fear of reprisal and the ability to develop ideas through dialogue is important to an organisation.  Developing ideas before implementation will increase the chance of success significantly.  Developing ideas in a vacuum can be a frustrating process of reinventing the wheel.

I feel to some degree I am doing this at the moment.  In developing better support for teachers, I am working with teachers with many years more experience - offering an opinion can either scratch wounds, state the obvious or sound naive.  Many of my ideas feel simplistic, to counter this I am actively looking and listening to successful strategies currently being used in our school in other learning areas and in other schools where I have colleagues in similar circumstances.

Creating a Math/Science department is also problematic, as I am trying to bring two teams together and I lack science experience.  Gaining knowledge of the needs and wants of the science team is drawing attention from the math team, also needing help, development and guidance.  I remind myself that I'm 10 weeks into a new job and can only do so much - yet it's obvious I need to do more to get the job done, and new responsibilities are on their way shortly.

I need to keep thinking about what I am doing, and do it better.  It sounds obvious, but if I keep focus on the big picture over time our learning programme will improve further.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

End of Term

It hasn't been an easy term with structural projects within the school being navigated whilst teaching programmes needed to continue.  Whilst the process has been traversed as well as it could be, these things are not pleasant to be a part of and finalisation of them such that the focus of driving learning can  be re-established will be a welcome change.

My first term as HoD is now nearly over.  The departmental focus has been implementing resolution processes to ensure that a mutual understanding (teachers and students) of issues and consequences is effected.  The issue is at the heart of teacher morale and having a HoD where responsibility lies seems to be making a difference. The outcome should be that teachers feel better supported and clear boundaries are set for students to work within.

There is an inbuilt conflict built into the HoD role in a small school as it has elements of student services (the "you'll be all right" care team type stuff) and the discipline ("this has gone on long enough, understand the consequences that follow") side.  With struggling students you can be on both sides within short time frames.

Whilst doing the role I have tried to keep development of the teams going, working with teachers to develop skills, encouraging others to demonstrate their leadership capabilities within teams, develop behavioural support structures, identify professional development opportunities and allow staff time to demonstrate skills learned before intervening.  With a challenging group of students, I always seem uncertain that I am doing enough, whilst the image seems to be that I have a lot of time and can be doing more.

The disappointing part is that I have not been able to achieve my core objectives for term 1, the completion of the math learning area plan and implement RTP in math/science.  The learning area plan is incomplete although is evolving in structure to meet the needs of the school, but RTP is mired in the structural change, until classes become settled and administrative capacity available there seems little point to implementation.

There is a always a need for those in leadership positions to lead.  With reduced numbers of L3 positions in the school I am mindful that this is ever more the case.  Morale of staff is sometimes about pointing out the obvious achievements, keeping a focus on learning, identifying the positives, dealing directly with issues, discouraging negative perceptions and generating a culture around sound student achievement.

In the last few weeks in my own classes I have focused on student engagement, developing clear connections for students between assessment outcomes and the need to take ownership of results.  It is evident that students often do not realise the need to utilise resources available, but it is equally evident that they need reasons made explicit to utilise these resources.  One example was a test that students did poorly in - I provided two options for them - attend after school classes voluntarily to improve or I'll make calls to parents and make it involuntary.  Needless to say they were empowered to turn up after school and enjoyed the well planned extension class (well done team!).  It's ideas like this that can keep a group engaged and improving.

Having my computer stolen was devastating both in a loss of trust in my students and organisationally as it is a core element of my teaching.  We had been working on iPad deployment with it, and without it we have had to stop.  It's taken time to register with police and liaise with admin, time that would be better spent on learning programmes.  I'm also disappointed that the work for the 1-1 iPad deployment was discarded for a shared model.  This too has wasted a lot of effort in developing resources and deployment infrastructure.

The structural changes in the school will evolve the idea of HoD at our school and the school will have to decide whether my abilities fits the role.  I'm doing my best to listen and enact changes as I see possible, but I need to recognise I can't be everything to everyone.  It's week 9, and not a time to over think stuff - just execute and recharge over the holidays.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The important of positivity

It's been a busy term and everyone is a little frayed.  It's time like this that a school like ours can start to wear on you a little.  You see only the negative and miss all of the good things that are being done.  You start to become that teacher that has been at the school a little too long and starts to believe the reputation of a school rather than see the potential of students.

If this happens, I hope you are able to take a step back and look at what you are doing.  I hope you have great people around you that can fill your sails with enthusiasm and drive you past the negativity - and similarly you can be that person for others in the organisation.  I hope you can look over your shoulder and see all the kids that have passed through the system successfully and realise that you are a part of something that makes a difference in your community.

I only noticed it this week because I was doing long hours and getting tired.  I was at a social function and a few jokes were bandied about our school (which is fairly normal - we have a reputation that we no longer deserve) and probably for the first time I wasn't one of the ones leaping to our defence.  Yet, I was surrounded at the time by two math teachers that graduated from our school (and were now working in the local area), my current practicum student is a graduate from our school, three of our past practicum students keep close contact with the school because they are keen to work with us (not only did practicum not scare them off - they can see the support and challenge of a school like ours), past students at university drop in all the time and visit.  Nearly every student that I have taught stage 3 courses to is now at university and is successfully traversing their degree.

We are lucky at the moment to have an administration that is challenging us to do more, and is helping those that want to rise to the challenge. They are supportive of our hair brained schemes that may help our hair brained students, ideas born from the extensive experience of the teaching team and through discussions with students.  There are even levels of real performance management entering the system - which is exciting as this is the heart of real change in the school.

We are doing things that very low SES schools don't do.. overseas trips, winning state and national competitions in multiple areas (science, history, home economics, dance from my knowledge in the last 5 years). We develop leadership.. With each PD I find that our school department has developed teachers in TiC and HoD positions all over WA that remember the school fondly.

I hear comments about how students miss our school once they have left and it's not just our stage 3 kids.  With the development of an active PE department, a T&E dept (focussed on vocations not just skills), dedicated dance and drama teachers and a MESS group that is getting their head around national curriculum delivery, we should be positive about the direction of the school.

It was a little surprise to discover I had become a teacher that had real pride in our school, rather relying on my more natural cynicism about everything!

Sure, we'll take hits in year 11 exams, as students start to realise a work ethic is needed to succeed but past experience says that the majority will get there (at least the ones that can surmount the problems the area brings).  The kids make the transition (giving us more grey hairs whilst making this transition) and it is ok.  Perspective needs to be maintained.

I think we need to be mindful of staff that focus on the negative aspects of schooling and miss the great things that are happening.  These members are always there, and it is a group I don't want to be a part of.

For someone like me that is developing their leadership skills, I think positivity is a real area I can work on.  As an art of leadership, inspiration of a team requires real belief in what you are doing.  If you feel that your belief is waning, take a good look around and see what you have done to make a difference, listen to colleagues that are in the zone, if that does not work, go make that difference instead.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Practical application of effective leadership

Today we wrote the test to help us stream the year 9's into year 10 classes for next year effectively. We decided on two one hour exams testing number facts & space/Measurement then Algebra and problem solving.

If I was to write the two exams, I'd have to sit with the outcomes, read half a dozen books to find questions that adequately test the outcomes, do the test, record how long it would take me, estimate how long it will take students, re-evaluate the order of the questions, write a marking key, ensure that the test adequately covers the material originally intended and then two days has passed with little sleep.


Our curriculum leader wrote the exam on a bit of paper off the top of his head, completed the answer key, allocated marks, I typed it up and it was done in two hours. Looking at it, it is far better than what I could have done alone. I worry that the difficulty level is a little high but I am happy to see what happens. If the students underachieve it will be easier to show their progress by the end of year 10 next year.

Experience always tells. There is no doubt, when writing the exam, in the instant between brain and hand, he had done all the things that I would have had to do; and even if I had written the exam knowing that our curriculum leader would look over it and make suggestions is a relief and takes away some of the pressure. Having someone you respect looking over things can make the difference between a new idea being accepted or rejected out of hand. That level of support and challenge is so necessary in your early years.

It is more than just experience though.

We have come up with a heap of hair brained schemes that you could see he doubted would be effective, but rather than dismissing them out of hand, he let us try. Sure enough, some of them had limited effect, but others have helped us understand the students better (like morning classes), others helped organise classes more efficiently (using more common assessment tasks and assessment schedules), others aim to assist students next year (like regrouping the 10's into their COS classes in term 4), helping us by bailing us out of duty when we have over committed (and need extra time to spend with students) and support our school wide initiatives (like a marks book for all classes or detailed programmes for junior school).

Earlier in the year we had moderation and intervention was needed to make sure the material we were presenting was demonstrative of our performance. The material I had prepared was inadequate and he suggested a number of things we had to do with presenting assessment prior to moderation, fixed the issues and our course was judged spot on.

Experienced staff commonly know who to talk to, what procedure is required, how long something will take for approval and what shortcuts are possible. They can save embarrassment from suggesting an idea that has been tried and failed or an idea that is unsuitable for a number of unthought of reasons.

Experienced staff tend to know what resources work and can lay their hands on them - in maths this is especially true with logic puzzle/investigation/problem solving activities that are hard to source.

Our curriculum leader likes to come into my room and takes great pleasure in finding mistakes with my board work (not one of my favourite habits) - but... I'd rather someone that had a clue than someone that didn't care enough to check that the senior school teachers are doing the right thing.

So to sum it up.. good leaders have superior content sequencing & resource knowledge (expert power), be willing to intervene where required and advocate to senior management for junior staff (management expertise), have respect of fellow staff (be charismatic), understand process (administrative expertise) and encourage risk taking (be entrepreneurial).

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Negotiation replacing leadership

When I was at my old school and raised that I thought that some issue was unfair, I was told to negotiate my way out of it with other teachers. I was interested in this concept as in the workforce, if you were told to do something it wasn't a case for negotiation, you just did the job. You relied on the person in management knowing what they were doing and just did the job.

In teaching it's a bit like a flea market. What you are told to do is the first offer. Then you say what you would like to do. Then you find someone who wants what you have been offered and perhaps do a deal to make it happen. A lot of back scratching and deal making commonly hides an old boys network where everyone is looked after with a bit of a wink.

Where this started I have no idea, but it doesn't make it easy for those that genuinely want to make things happen. For someone to lead, others must be inspired or at least willing to follow. Negotiation just slows things down. The person leading needs to know what they are doing and those confident have to follow and preferably want to follow and those dragging their feet or passively resisting have to know there are consequences for such action.

Otherwise, where is the management? Where is the leadership?

To get around convoluted management styles I look for projects that can be managed by only those with a particular skill base and try to make it happen. Design a course of work, have before school classes, assist with after school tutoring, examine calculator usage, run a summer school, realign student groups, create my blog, assist with student events, organise resources, design reporting and assessment schemas. Ideas like this don't need committees and can be a genuine contribution to school results.

The bane of leadership is the committee. A committee is a way of distributing work to many that meet infrequently, rarely get anything done and no-one is to blame if everything fails. If someone does get something done it is usually because the group is overwhelmed by a dominant personality who does all the work (or delegates effectively with the fear of authority) and unfairly has to share the credit because some plod thinks they contributed an idea to the process.

When I'm on a committee, I rely on the principle, don't suggest an idea unless you are willing to do it. And if you suggest something be aware that unless someone else says they can do it better or the group thinks it is a negative idea, you will be doing it. If you don't contribute, you will be removed from the committee. Easy.. instant effective committees. I have never survived long as chairman and even more rarely get asked onto a committee. Which suits me fine :-)

The idea that a participant on a committee is there to get support for senior teacher status rather than a genuine interest in the committee makes a mockery of the process. Jumping through hoops is not the path to progress. Just poorly crafted committees.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Getting the job done.

It's a sad day when a teacher realises that they cannot get done what needs to get done and feel helpless about doing anything about it. Change in a school is difficult, fraught with committees to get things done. I've watched a number of enthusiastic teachers fall in a heap knowing that once upon a time they could affect more real change within the classroom than they can now.

The strategy of any great leader is to gather great people around you. Working with great people, great achievements can be made. We are not able in today's employment climate to attract these great people in any real numbers.

Those that we have left need to be treasured and nurtured, especially those with skills that are not readily reproduced such as upper school teachers. As a newby, without their support, ideas and guidance I would be flotsam and my students would be washing around me.

These people that keep an eye on our programmes, have a quiet word to a difficult student, give us gentle encouragement and directions to travel need to be reminded occasionally of the great job they are doing both by teachers and parents when they believe courses are going right - not just when things hit the fan.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Leadership and teaching

There's a big focus on leadership in teaching - and the use of power in leadership is an interesting problem for any teacher especially those entering teaching. I draw here from the book Leadership an Australasian focus, a standard university text.

Legitimate power is the power granted by the lawful right to make a decision. This is the power granted by a mandate from DET - such as the mandate for the Curriculum Framework and the underlying principles of OBE. Coercive power is the power stemming from this, leading to punishment for non-compliance. These are typically the powers used by autocratic leaders.

Reward power is something in disfavour at the moment, especially extrinsic rewards. Things like the Jelly baby for the good work, the sticker and the reward event at the end of term. The more meaningful or desirable the extrinsic reward the more effective it is. At the minor end of the scale a reward can also mean being available at a more personable level or providing more intrinsic rewards such as the 'well done' or the quiet word after class. Charismatic leaders tend to use this most effectively as their major source of influence as negative reinforcers deplete their charismatic aura.

Information power or expert power is the power of having knowledge that is needed by others. It's the power most used in upper school classes. You have the information and control the flow - they need it and your ability to provide it will gear their motivation. Typically this is assigned to an administrative expert or a leader based on expert power such as a lead researcher. Expert power is undervalued today as there is no effective measure of performance of a teacher.

Prestige power is another power that can be used to influence students. Personal achievement provides students with confidence that you know what you are doing and will not lead them astray. This is the sort of power commonly used by teachers entering from another profession.

And here's the rub.. try and apply DET behaviour management strategies ("BMIS") and apply these powers. BMIS lends itself well to the administrative expert with strong autocratic administrative backing. If you lack administrative backing or struggle with administrative expertise (but instead are using charismatic leadership styles), questions arise about your skill before you effectively reach your zone of working effectively after true expert power is established. These teachers feel threatened/feel unsupported/feel like they are letting their students down/leave and we are left with an impoverished teaching pool.